Antler PDX

Antler gallery is located in the vibrant​ Alberta Arts District of Portland, OR. Artists Susannah Kelly and Neil Perry founded Antler to showcase high caliber contemporary art and innovative craft from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. They took the time to talk with Venison about their experience as artists running a gallery, and let us in on some of their future projects. ​

Why did you start Antler?

When we met we were both working artists, participating in shows around town and developing our styles. We were both very serious about pursuing a career in the art world, but perhaps lacking a little direction.

We had curated a few pop-up shows before and when our favorite gallery in the neighborhood closed we decided it was time to do something other than bemoan the loss. We asked Alberta Main St. (a community non profit) if we could lease an office cubicle with a large window on to the street in their building. We built some walls and started hosting monthly art shows. The Alberta Arts District is the neighborhood we met in and it means a lot to us. The gallery is our way of maintaining the tradition of contemporary art on this street.

When did you decide to start curating other artists’ work? Did it start with Antler or did you have previous experiences?

We curated a couple of group shows in 2011 that were in pop-up locations, these acted as a good indicator that we were both committed to projects and could work well together.

Has your vision of the gallery changed from when you first started opened to now?

When we opened we knew what we didn’t want to be. We both had horrible experiences of going into large cavernous galleries where the people in charge want you to do a loop then leave ASAP. Since we opened we’ve figured out exactly what we do want to be. We’re providing a space that is inclusive and open, but maintains a high quality in terms of the art we show and the way we present it. Now we’re in a larger space and the roster has gotten larger, including more established artists alongside the emerging artists we’ve always worked with.

How has running a gallery has changed your network of artist friends and professionals? Is it a challenge to keep friends and business separate, or do you find that it has enriched and broadened your network
Opening the gallery has definitely broadened and expanded our network. It can be tricky to navigate sometimes, but for the most part the people we know and work with understand entirely the delicate social etiquette of the gallery world. We had a couple of rough experiences early on which made us draw a hard line about not showing work that we would not curate objectively, purely because of obligation.

The other side of the coin is that we would not be able to  do this at all if it wasn’t for the many remarkable, hard working and talented friends we have. From showing up to help us move heavy furniture, to helping us transport work, emotional support when things get on top of us, and watching the gallery when we are out of town – we are so lucky to have their support in so many different ways.What are some of the insights you have gained about how a gallery runs? Since starting Antler, have you found yourselves approaching galleries about your personal work differently?

We’ve definitely learned a lot about what is good to see and hear on the other side of the desk and now avoid (hopefully) errors we’d made before gaining this experience. The general rules are very simple though: be respectful, if there’s a submission policy follow it to the letter and don’t make someone else’s event or opening about you and your portfolio/phone. We’re very fortunate to be part of an art community that values the right things. Networking here tends to be a lot more organic than in other places. If you take a genuine interest in people and the things they do then you’re much more likely to become part of their circle than if you approach everyone wondering what they can do for you.

How do you separate yourselves as individual artists from the gallery that you run? Do you utilize the association or do you try to keep from some separation between your art and your curatorial practice.

We try to find a nice balance between the two. While neither of us necessarily tries to artificially benefit from our roles with Antler, it has definitely opened some doors that might have remained closed otherwise. We don’t make an effort to tell people that we own Antler Gallery when the discussion is about our artwork and often people don’t realize it’s the same person.

What are some of your pet peeves when working with artists and artist submissions?

In all honesty we work with such an amazing group of people that there aren’t many I can think of. Everyone is very professional and has a lot of experience so their expectations and the way they conduct themselves is great. In terms of submissions, if someone decided to completely ignore our submission policy when applying or write an email as if kind words and courtesy are diminishing resources, then we most likely won’t even look at the work.

What kind of guidance can you give our readers about approaching galleries and interacting with curators? As an emerging artist it can be difficult to know where to start.

It differs from place to place and gallery to gallery. Some people like the idea of artists as arrogant, dramatic or troubled in some way. Here in Portland we’d say it’s all about being a hard-working, positive person who is serious about getting better at their craft. what we mentioned above about being respectful when approaching spaces is the best advice to take.

What do you look for in the artists that you show- what kind of artwork really excites you?

Our curatorial process operates as a Venn diagram of our personal tastes, the work which falls into the area of overlap is what we show. The only rule is that we both love it. We’re really excited by nature-based work, particularly with a message about where we are headed in terms of our environment and the choices we’re making.

Tell me about your upcoming projects- I hear there is a second gallery in the works.

Yes! We are so excited to announce that we will be opening a second gallery space called “Talon” in Portland this January. We chose the name “Talon” because we wanted to keep the nod toward the nature themes which heavily dominate our curation style, but also evoke a more mysterious tone. We will open on Saturday, January 14th with our inaugural group show, ‘Familiar”. The title bears reference to the fact that while this new gallery may carry some resemblance to Antler it is an entirely different entity with a life and personality of its own

What lead you to open a second location?
Over the five years we have had Antler we have honed a very specific curatorial style which mainly includes surreal portraits of animals, creatures and depictions of the natural world. With this new gallery we hope to hone in on the darker side of our curatorial perspective, including artists who explore expressive, figurative, and folkloric work, which many not fit into the very specific aesthetic of Antler.